Food & Drink

How to get clever with croutons

Potato Peel “Croutons.”
Potato Peel “Croutons.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Croutons are smile inducers. Set a plain dinner salad in front of someone, and they might thank you for making sure they get their daily intake of veggies. Give ‘em a salad with croutons, and they’ll start finger-picking the cubes out of the bowl right quick.

This past spring, I stayed with my widowed aunt for a few days after the sudden death of my uncle, her husband of more than 50 years. I was there for moral support and didn’t have much to do, so I put myself to care for her the only way I knew how: cooking. There were loaves upon loaves of Italian bread left over from the funeral reception. I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I baked up a few batches of crunchy croutons. I cut the dry bread into hefty squares then coated them in a liberal amount of olive oil and an Italian spice blend I scrounged up from her pantry.

They were the star for the salads-as-mains that we enjoyed for lunches and dinners. They were our afternoon snack, paired with fancy cheese. Croutons aren’t typically called comfort food, but those grieving days, croutons were our crutches.

It’s easy enough to buy a box of croutons, but making them yourself is ridiculously simple. And if you think outside the box, you realize that more than day-old bread is a crouton contender.

Potato peel “croutons” is one for the frugal cook looking to turn kitchen waste into something yummy. It’s one of numerous creative recipes in “Eat It Up!,” a no-waste cookbook by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

Tortilla Croutons are something that Atlanta chef Eddie Hernandez of Taquería del Sol regularly pulls out of his back pocket. The clever recipe, which he shares in his new cookbook, “Turnip Greens & Tortillas,” sees flour tortillas stacked together, married through a quick egg wash, then cut into squares and fried. Hernandez recently served me these golden crouton impersonators atop a lettuce salad with a Mexican Ranch dressing. Of course, they made me smile.

Potato Peel ‘Croutons’

Yield: Makes 2 cups

Excerpted from “Eat It Up!: 150 Recipes to Use Every Bit and Enjoy Every Bite of the Food You Buy” by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

2 cups potato peels from well-scrubbed potatoes

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of dried thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Toss the potato peels and garlic cloves with the oil, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast until crisp, about 20 minutes, tossing occasionally to ensure even cooking.

Remove from the oven and immediately toss with the cheese.

Use to top salads and casseroles. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Nutrition | Per 2-tablespoon serving: 38 calories (percent of calories from fat, 47), 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 1 milligram cholesterol, 39 milligrams sodium

Tortilla Croutons

Yield: Makes 1 cup

Recipe and photograph from “Turnip Greens & Tortillas” by Eddie Hernandez and Susan Puckett.

4 (6-inch) flour tortillas

1 large egg, beaten

Vegetable oil for frying

Cotija cheese (optional)

Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside.

Brush 1 tortilla with some of the beaten egg. Press a second tortilla on top of the first and brush with more egg. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Cut into crouton-size squares.

Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy pot or skillet over high heat to 350 degrees. Carefully add a small handful of tortillas to the oil and fry until golden, 30 to 45 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to the paper towel-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with cotija cheese, if desired. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, allowing the oil to return to 350 degrees between each batch.

Nutrition | Per 2-tablespoon serving: 143 calories (percent of calories from fat, 69), 2 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 11 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 27 milligrams cholesterol, 85 milligrams sodium